The disputed land known as the Shaaba Farms (also spelled Shebaa, Shaba or Chaba or variants) lies along the border between Lebanon and Israel, at the northern edge of the Golan Heights, land that has been held by Israel since the end of the 1967 Six Day War. [The Arabic name “Shaaba Farms” is called “Har Dov” — Mount David — by Israelis.] The Shaaba Farms land is considered by Israel to be land captured from Syria.
The internationally-recognized border between Lebanon and Israel is based on the boundary line between Palestine, Syria and Lebanon surveyed by Britain and France in 1923. This same border was established as the Armistice Demarcation Line (ADL) by the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement signed on March 23, 1949 at the end of the War of Independence. Until 1978, neither Lebanon nor Israel occupied any territory in violation of this demarcation line.
When Israeli forces invaded southern Lebanon in 1978, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425, which called upon Israel to “withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory” and established the UN Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL] “for the purpose of confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces.” The official position of the UN has always been that Resolution 425 required Israeli forces to withdraw to the pre-1978 line of separation, that is, to the 1949 ADL.
Until 1999, Lebanon endorsed this position; the 1949 ADL was considered the border and Resolution 425 meant withdrawal across that line. Lebanese tenant-farmers were allowed to cross the border to work the fields south of it, considered to be in Israel. But in late 1999, Lebanon, under pressure from Syria, began to make territorial claims to villages in the Shaaba Frams area, south of the 1949 ADL.
When UN surveyors marked the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel in the summer of 2000 after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, they determined that the Shaaba Farms villages were on the Israeli side, that is, on land that will be the subject of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria at some time in the future.
Since Israel’s withdrawal, Hezbollah has kept the dispute over Shaaba Farms boiling with assertions that they have evidence supporting Lebanese claims to the land. This gives them a pretext to attack Israel for holding land Hezbollah still considers to be part of Lebanon; that is, they claim Israel has not yet withdrawn from all of Lebanon.
But the United Nations agrees with Israel, as this quote from the Secretary General’s report makes clear:
- On 15 May 2000, the United Nations received a map, dated 1966, from the Government of Lebanon which reflected the Government’s position that these farmlands were located in Lebanon. However, the United Nations is in possession of 10 other maps issued after 1966 by various Lebanese government institutions, including the Ministry of Defence and the army, all of which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Nations has also examined six maps issued by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, including three maps since 1966, which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic.
Syria and Iran have provided support for Hezbollah in order to keep pressure on Israel and the United States. Recognizing this, Israel has chosen to respond to certain Hezbollah attacks on the IDF by attacking Syrian targets in Lebanon, among them a Syrian radar position in Dahar al-Bader, on the Damascus-Beirut Highway. This made it clear that it was within Israel’s capability to directly attack Hezbollah’s patron — Syria — when Israel is sufficiently provoked.
In March 2002, as Israel carried out its Operation Defensive Shield, Hezbollah increased its cross-border attacks from Lebanon as a “second front” supporting the Palestinian Arabs.